Bush Administration’s Double Standard on Sentencing

The New York Times has an excellent article up this evening on the contradictory position Scooter Libby’s pardon has with the Bush Administration’s typical stance on sentencing. While Mr. Libby’s sentence was deemed “excessive,” the Bush Administration has persistently pursued harsh stands on sentencing, and recently argued that the Federal Guidelines should be considered a “reasonable” subject to judicial deference. Mr. Libby’s sentence followed these same guidelines.

As Governor of Texas, President Bush rarely showed leniency when it came to appeals from death sentences. Before Mr. Bush granted his first reprieve of a death sentence he had signed off on 131 executions. His first reprieve was granted in 2000, the year he ran for president. He said at one time, “I’m confident that every person that has been put to death in Texas under my watch has been guilty of the crime charged, and has had full access to the courts.” Sometimes such a judgment would follow only a short summary of the victim’s plight by the loyal Alberto Gonzales. As president, Mr. Bush has been just as stingy with his powers of mercy: he has granted fewer pardons and commutations than any president in the last century.

The mercy preached by Mr. Bush, and the mercy implicitly approved by the Christian Right, the “values voters,” and others who still support the President, is not mysterious. This mercy is to be granted to those who advance the administration and its goals. This mercy does not stem from the heart, or from inherent notions of fairness: it is a political mercy, where the means are forgiven if the end is power. Mr. Bush’s commutation of Mr. Libby’s jail time not only carries the rank scent of politics and favoritism, but affronts the very idea and purpose of mercy. Mr. Bush’s hypocrisy should be condemned.

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